Vincent van Gogh (1853-1890)
Vincent van Gogh (1853-1890)
Vincent van Gogh (1853-1890)
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Vincent van Gogh (1853-1890)
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On occasion, Christie's has a direct financial int… Read more The Cox Collection: The Story of Impressionism
VINCENT VAN GOGH (1853-1890)

Jeune homme au bleuet

VINCENT VAN GOGH (1853-1890)
Jeune homme au bleuet
oil on canvas
16 x 12 5/8 in. (40.5 x 32 cm.)
Painted in Auvers-sur-Oise in June 1890
Theo van Gogh, Paris (acquired from the artist).
Johanna van Gogh-Bonger, Paris (by descent from the above).
Galerie Bernheim-Jeune et Cie., Paris (acquired from the above, 5 November 1909).
Paul von Mendelssohn-Bartholdy (acquired from the above, 11 October 1911; with Galerie Paul Rosenberg, Paris, circa 1934-1935).
Elsa von Kesselstatt, Vaduz (by descent from the above, 1935, until at least 1954).
Wildenstein & Co. Inc., New York (acquired through Joseph Graf von Meran, Vaduz, 1981).
Acquired from the above by the late owner, 24 November 1981.
"Giving Amusement to All London: Paintings by Post-Impressionists" in The Sketch, 1910.
J. Meier-Graefe, Vincent van Gogh, Munich, 1918, p. 74 (illustrated).
J. Meier-Graefe, Vincent, Munich, 1921, vol. II (illustrated, pl. 72; dated 1888-1889).
V. Nebesky, Ume?ni´ po impresionismu, Prague, 1923.
R. Grey, Van Gogh, Rome, 1924 (illustrated).
C. Zervos, "Idéalisme et naturalisme dans la peinture moderne: II. Cézanne, Gauguin, Van Gogh" in Cahiers d'art, 1927, no. 10, p. 345 (illustrated; titled L'homme à l'oeillet).
J.-B. de la Faille, L'oeuvre de Vincent van Gogh: Catalogue raisonné, Paris, 1928, vol. I, p. 223, no. 787 (illustrated, vol. II, pl. CCXIX).
F. Fels, Vincent van Gogh, Paris, 1928, p. 100 (illustrated).
W.F. Douwes, Vincent van Gogh, Amsterdam, 1930 (illustrated, pl. 61).
W. Scherjon and J. de Gruyter, Vincent van Gogh's Great Period: Arles, St. Rémy and Auvers-sur-Oise, Complete Catalogue, Amsterdam, 1937, p. 375, no. 221 (illustrated).
J.-B. de la Faille, Vincent van Gogh, Paris, 1939, p. 529, no. 772/F. 787 (illustrated, pl. 772).
E.A. Jewell, Vincent van Gogh, New York, 1946, p. 77 (illustrated).
F. Elgar, Van Gogh, New York, 1966, no. 206 (illustrated).
J.-B. de la Faille, The Works of Vincent van Gogh: His Paintings and Drawings, Amsterdam, 1970, p. 301, no. F 787 (illustrated).
L. Lecaldano, L'opera pittorica completa di van Gogh e i suoi nessi grafici, Milan, 1971, vol. II, p. 231, no. 834 (illustrated, p. 230).
J. Hulsker, The Complete Van Gogh: Paintings, Drawings, Sketches, Amsterdam, 1977, p. 469, no. 2050 (illustrated).
W. Feilchenfeldt, Vincent van Gogh & Paul Cassirer, Berlin: The Reception of Van Gogh in Germany from 1901-1914, Zwolle, 1988, pp. 49 and 120 (illustrated in color, p. 49; illustrated again, p. 120).
I.F. Walther and R. Metzger, Vincent van Gogh: The Complete Paintings, Cologne, 1993, vol. II, p. 676 (illustrated in color).
J. Hulsker, The New Complete Van Gogh: Paintings, Drawings, Sketches, Amsterdam, 1996, p. 469, no. 2050 (illustrated).
C. Stolwijk and H. Veenenbos, The Account Book of Theo van Gogh and Jo van Gogh-Bonger, Amsterdam, 2002, pp. 52, 53, 127, 128, 149, 150, 163 and 190 (illustrated, p. 190).
J. Lloyd and M. Peppiatt, eds., Van Gogh and Expressionism, exh. cat., Neue Galerie, New York, 2007, p. 171.
M. Vellekoop and R. Zwikker, Vincent van Gogh Drawings: Arles, Saint-Rémy & Auvers-sur-Oise, 1888-1890, Van Gogh Museum, Burlington, 2007, p. 471 (illustrated in color, fig. 475e).
R. Metzger and I.F. Walther, Vincent van Gogh, Cologne, 2008, p. 228.
A.G. Robins, "'Manet and the Post-Impressionists': a Checklist of Exhibits" in Burlington Magazine, December 2010, vol. CLII, p. 788 (illustrated in The Sketch 1910 article, fig. 12).
W. Feilchenfeldt, Vincent van Gogh: The Years in France, Complete Paintings, 1886-1890. Dealers, Collectors, Exhibitions, Provenance, London, 2013, p. 244 (illustrated in color; dated 8 July 1890).
B. Echte and W. Feilchenfeldt, eds., Kunstsalon Paul Cassirer. Die Ausstellungen 1905-1908, "Den Sinnen ein magischer Rausch“, Wädenswiel, 2013, vol. 3, pp. 120-124.
R. Skea, Vincent's Portraits: Paintings and Drawings by Van Gogh, London, 2018, p. 106, no. 79 (illustrated in color, p. 107).
Amsterdam, Stedelijk Museum, Vincent van Gogh, July-August 1905, p. 30, no. 229c (titled Vrouw met korenbloem).
Hamburg, Paul Cassirer, V. Jahrgang, I. Ausstellung, September-October 1905, no. 21 (titled Frauenkopf).
Dresden, Ernst Arnold, II. Ausstellung, October-November 1905, no. 18 (titled Frauenkopf).
Berlin, Paul Cassirer, December 1905, no. 21 (titled Frauenkopf).
Vienna, Galerie H.O. Miethke, Vincent van Gogh, January 1906, p. 14, no. 34 (titled Frau).
London, Grafton Galleries, Manet and the Post-Impressionists, November 1910-January 1911, p. 22, no. 67 (titled Jeune fille au bleuet).
Dublin, United Arts Club, Exhibition of Works by Post-Impressionist Painters, January-February 1911, no. 11 (titled Jeune fille au bleuet).
Liverpool, Sandon Studios Society, Exhibition of Modern Art Including Works by the Post-Impressionists, March-April 1911, no. 35 (titled Jeune fille au bleuet).
The Detroit Institute of Arts; Boston, Museum of Fine Arts and Philadelphia Museum of Art, Van Gogh: Face to Face, March 2000-January 2001, p. 269, no. 191 (illustrated in color).
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Lot Essay

Vincent van Gogh painted Jeune homme au bleuet, a vibrant depiction of a young inhabitant of Auvers-sur-Oise, in June 1890, the penultimate month of his life. With a fiery wave of sun-bleached, tousled hair, bright green eyes, and rosy cheeks, this young, disheveled character appears as if a child of the fields, a mischievous ragamuffin, perhaps belonging to a family of farmers who worked the land around the rural village, which was set on a quiet stretch of the river Oise as it wound its way north, through the verdant Ile-de-France.
Van Gogh arrived in Auvers at the end of May 1890. He had decided to leave the quiet sanctum that was the asylum in Saint-Rémy-de-Provence, returning to the north to be closer to his Paris-based brother, Theo, as well as to meet Dr. Paul-Ferdinand Gachet, a homeopathic specialist, collector, amateur artist, and friend to many of the Impressionists, whom Camille Pissarro had recommended to Theo. After spending a few days in Paris, which, coming from the seclusion of Saint-Rémy, served as a violent assault on Van Gogh’s senses and emotions, the artist arrived in Auvers, the quiet, unspoilt village that was to be his last home and final resting place.
“Auvers is really beautiful—among other things, many old thatched roofs, which are becoming rare” (Letter 873, in L. Jansen, H. Luijten and N. Bakker, eds., Vincent van Gogh: The Letters, The Complete Illustrated and Annotated Edition, London, 2009, vol. 5, p. 240), the artist happily described to Theo and his wife, Jo, soon after his arrival. By this time, the village had become something of an artistic center. Having been “discovered” by the Barbizon painter, Charles-François Daubigny, it had played host over the 1870s to Camille Pissarro, Paul Cézanne, and Armand Guillaumin. Just as it had to those before him, Auvers provided Van Gogh with a quiet contentment as well as ample artistic inspiration. Over the last two months of his life, he worked at an astonishing pace, producing around eighty works.
Soon after his arrival, Van Gogh took his letter of introduction to Dr. Gachet. In Gachet Van Gogh found a kindred spirit, “a true friend…rather like a brother,” he described to his sister, Willemien (Letter 879, vol. 5, p. 250). Not long after this first meeting, Gachet asked Van Gogh to paint his portrait. The results of this request are among the most famous works of Van Gogh’s oeuvre—the two versions of Portrait de Docteur Gachet (Faille, no. 753, Private collection; and Faille, no. 754, Musée d’Orsay, Paris). Yet, the purpose of Gachet’s suggestion was not solely for the doctor to receive a portrait of himself; he realized the radicality and strength of Van Gogh’s portraiture, and, in supporting the artist to pursue this genre, enabled him to create some of the finest works of his career.
“My friend Dr Gachet is decidedly enthusiastic about this latest portrait of the Arlésienne, one of which I also have myself (either Faille, no. 540 or 541), and about a portrait of myself (Faille, no. 627), and that gave me pleasure, since he’ll drive me to do figure work and I hope he’ll find me a few interesting models to do,” Van Gogh explained to Willemien on 5 June. “What I’m most passionate about, much much more than all the rest in my profession—is the portrait, the modern portrait. I seek it by way of color, and am certainly not alone in seeking it in this way… I would like to do portraits which would look like apparitions to people a century later. So I don’t try to do us by photographic resemblance but by our passionate expressions, using as a means of expression and intensification of the character our science and modern taste for color” (Letter 879, vol. 5, p. 254).
Over the course of the month of June, Van Gogh painted an astounding array of portraits, including Jeune homme au bleuet, varying the palette, handling, and setting in a masterful display of artistic skill. George Shackelford has described, “In the last months of his life… Van Gogh turned again and again to portraiture as a means of experimenting with form, color, and meaning. These paintings, although broadly conceived and swiftly executed, are among the most moving of the artist’s portraits” (Vincent van Gogh: the Painter and the Portrait, New York, 2002, p. 68).
This proliferation of portraits demonstrates how Van Gogh clearly relished being back among people after the isolation of Saint-Rémy. Along with depictions of Gachet’s daughter, Marguerite, and Adeline Ravoux, the daughter of the inn keeper where he was staying, Van Gogh also captured anonymous peasant girls (Faille, nos. 774 and 788; Private collection and National Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C.), and children in works such as Deux enfants (Faille, no. 783; Musée d’Orsay, Paris), and La fille de Levert avec une orange (Faille, no. 785; Private collection), as well as the present Jeune homme au bleuet. This group is rich in variety and contrast: some sitters Van Gogh pictured outdoors among fields of wheat, or with the village behind them, embodiments of rustic simplicity; others are posed indoors, the models engaged in the attire and activity that matched their bourgeois standing. Given that almost all of Van Gogh’s portraits from this period are female, with the exception of Doctor Gachet, it has been suggested that the subject of the present work could also be a young girl.
Indeed, at this time, Van Gogh was interested more than ever in the depiction of children, regarding them as the embodiment of a carefree, innocent and optimistic life—something that had thus far eluded the artist, and which he so desperately longed for. In addition, it was not just his images of the verdant landscape that captured “what I consider healthy and fortifying about the countryside,” but these figures also conveyed the vitality and contentment of country life that the artist so revered (Letter 898, vol. 5, p. 287). “There is no trace of despondency, depression, or premonitions in a painting such as Jeune homme au bleuet, Ingo F. Walther and Rainer Metzger have written, “indeed, none of Van Gogh’s other portraits can match the cheerful tone of this one” (Vincent van Gogh, 1853-1890, Cologne, 2008, p. 228).
Clutching a cornflower between his lips, the protagonist of Jeune homme au bleuet appears at one with nature itself—a kind of Pan, the god of nature and the wilds, or indeed a Puck-like character, the magic-casting mischievous sprite of English folklore. Against a golden background strewn with light blue and green strokes, it appears as if the child is standing amid a field of wheat or corn, ripened, like the child’s hair, to gold by the summer sun. Background and subject merge, coalescing into a radical vision of light and radiant color. Just as in this portrait, nature plays a central role in Van Gogh’s work of this time, allowing the colors to inform and often complement the depictions of figures. Though, he remarked to Theo, “we’re still a long way from people understanding the curious relationships that exist between one piece of nature and another, which however explain and bring each other out” (Letter 893, vol. 5, p. 277).
Combining his love of nature, his color palette, facture, as well as his innate ability at distilling something of the human psyche and rendering this in pictorial form, these portraits stand as a summation of Van Gogh’s art. “One can realize,” he poignantly described, “compared to the calm ancient portraits, how much expression there is in our present-day heads, and passion... Sad but gentle but clear and intelligent, that’s how many portraits should be done, that would still have a certain effect on people at times… There are modern heads that one will go on looking at for a long time, that one will perhaps regret a hundred years afterwards. If I were ten years younger, with what I know now, how much ambition I would have for working on that. In the given conditions I can’t do very much, I neither frequent nor would know how to frequent sufficiently the sort of people I would like to influence” (Letter 886, vol. 5, p. 260).
Jeune homme au bleuet has a particularly important early exhibition history. Included in the landmark retrospective of the artist, held at the Stedelijk Museum, Amsterdam in 1905, the portrait was subsequently included in the series of exhibitions organized by dealer, Paul Cassirer, across Germany in 1905. These shows had a seminal influence on the next generation of artists, most notably in this case, the nascent Die Brücke group.
Five years later, this work arrived at London’s Grafton Galleries, where it appeared in the groundbreaking exhibition, Manet and the Post-Impressionists. Organized by Roger Fry, this was the first time that the work of Van Gogh, Cézanne, Paul Gauguin, Georges Seurat, and Henri Matisse, among others, was shown in England, the multifarious styles that composed the newly-coined term “Post-Impressionism” masterfully displayed. The show was met with fury, dismay, and confusion by critics and the public alike; it was even suggested that Fry and his wife were mad. Yet, this event marked a critical turning point in the development of modern art on both sides of the Channel. “On or about December 1910,” Virginia Woolf famously described in her essay, “Mr Bennett and Mrs Brown,” “human character changed.” A second iteration of this exhibition was held in 1912, in which Matisse’s Jeune marine, itself a compelling comparison with Jeune homme au bleuet, was shown.

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